It’s a poorly kept secret in the bookselling world that – just like movies – many books are written just as much for adults as they are for children. I’ve been utterly fascinated by them for a while now – particularly by the ones that work on two very different levels.
I still remember coming back to Helen Cresswell’s Winter of the Birds and being totally blown away by it. It was like reading a completely different story. No longer just an adventure, but something much deeper.
Since then I’ve adored reading children’s books with that double layer, and others that don’t seem to be written so much for children as for adults, some of them probably appealing more to adults than the children they’re intended for. Books like Frances Hardinge’s Verdigris Deep and The Lie Tree, The Hobbit, Philip Pullman’s Amber Spyglass series.
The Guardian postulated that the quality of children’s books was because these books are designed to be read and re-read and quotes Neil Gaiman, “When I’m writing for kids,” he says, “I’m always assuming that a story, if it is loved, is going to be re-read. So I try and be much more conscious of it than I am with adults, just in terms of word choices. I once said that while I could not justify every word in American Gods, I can justify every single word in Coraline.”
For me it is more than that – and possibly less, because I certainly can’t justify every word in Quest. For me the fun was in crafting a story that was a rollicking tale of adventure on one level and a parody adults could enjoy on the other.
That idea of two completely different books in one read, I believe, can be seen in most of the books below. They’re some of my favs, meticulously crafted to be more than a little adventure or fun, more than just beautiful writing, but with that extra something else…
I hope you enjoyed these books. Most of them are very well known, except perhaps The Trumpet of the Swan (arguably EB White’s best and least well-known book) and The Winter of the Birds, which was an adventure for a young me, but somewhat darker and more evocative on a second reading.
I have to wonder, am I the only person obsessed with children’s books? And if not, what are your favourite children’s books? And have they changed now that you’re an adult?